Penn State seeks more signature plays in Monday's Rose Bowl

Rose Bowl Penn State Football
Penn State cornerback Grant Haley is all roses during Friday's media day for the Rose Bowl. Haley returned a blocked field-goal attempt for a touchdown against Ohio State on Oct. 22.

LOS ANGELES – Given the rich history of Penn State on the football field, players who join the program wonder how they can leave their mark with an impact moment that lifts the Nittany Lions to a stirring victory.

In a season that surpassed the expectations of all but the most loyal member of Nittany Nation, junior defensive backs Grant Haley and Marcus Allen left two marks, combining for the two signature plays of the year.

Haley, a cornerback, dashed 60 yards with an Ohio State field goal attempt that was blocked by Allen for the winning touchdown in a 24-21 upset of the Buckeyes on Oct. 22 at Beaver Stadium. Six weeks later, in the Big Ten championship game, Haley made the initial hit on a fourth-and-1 run by Wisconsin's Corey Clement, and Allen, a free safety, helped him finish the play at the Penn State 24 that clinched a 38-31 win.

"We've talked about it a couple of times," Haley said Friday during Penn State's portion of Rose Bowl media day at the L.A. Hotel Downtown.

"He always talks about, 'You scored,' and I'm like, 'But you're the one who blocked it.' And I would be like, 'You made the tackle,' and he was like, 'You stopped him first.' It's just kind of fun and games.

"Marcus is a great guy, a great football player. I feel like we've been close ever since freshman year. If anybody else on our team was in that spot, they would rise to the occasion and succeed."

The victory over Ohio State was the third straight of the season, a launching point to what is a nine-game win streak going into Monday's Rose Bowl matchup against Southern California. Of course, the fourth-down stop against Wisconsin is what got the Nittany Lions here.

For both Haley and Allen, the signature moment is something that you can't predict but always dream about. When it does happen, people will remember it for a long time.

"I just wanted to leave my mark on the program, especially with this team," the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Haley said. "There's something different, the closeness of this team. Everyone wants to go out there and play for each other. Just being a part of such a special moment in Penn State history. It's truly tremendous to me, and just being a part of this team is also tremendous as well.

"I think people just step up in the moment. I feel like anybody on our team would do that because the next-man-up mentality is what we do. People got their moment, and they shined in it, and I think that's what's good about this team."

"Coaches on our team and a lot of people, before I came to college, always said, 'How do you want to be remembered and leave your mark on the field?' " said the 6-2, 202-pound Allen, who leads the team with 101 tackles. "I don't think I'm done. With the Rose Bowl coming up, I still want to leave my mark. Those two plays me and Grant made, we left our mark. But it's still an unfinished story."

Haley and Allen get to finish the story against a USC passing attack that thrived after redshirt freshman Sam Darnold took over as the Trojans' starting quarterback in the season's fourth game. He lost that contest but has won eight in a row since, throwing 24 touchdown passes during that time.

"The quarterback gets it out quick. He has a strong arm," Haley said. "The receivers have good hands. They're going to make the contested 50-50 catches. So as a defense, we need to be able to break those passes up, get their off their rhythm, their timing. That starts up front with our D-line getting pressure to the quarterback."

And if there is a need to make the kind of signature play that has been seen before, Allen has no doubt that anyone on the team can make it.

"I feel honored to be connected to those two plays," he said. "But I'm pretty sure if anybody else were in our shoes, they would have made the play."

jjuliano@phillynews.com

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